Byron Writers Festival announces full line-up

Writer, commentator and satirist P. J. O'Rourke. Photo contributed

Writer, commentator and satirist P. J. O’Rourke. Photo contributed

Heading the roll-call for the 20th anniversary of Australia’s largest regional literary event, is lauded American satirist and political commentator P.J. O’Rourke, presented in collaboration with The Centre for Independent Studies as part of its own 40th anniversary celebrations

‘The 2016 Festival Program reflects passions, persuasions and diverse perspectives and is underpinned by a fundamental belief in the importance and power of literature in shaping our lives,’ says festival director Edwina Johnson.

Among the international guests sharing their stories are best-selling UK novelist Louise Doughty (Black Water, Apple Tree Yard); Irish writer Evelyn Conlon whose epic novel Not The Same Sky traces the forced migration of young orphaned Irish girls to Australia; Spanish ex-police officer Victor del Arbol whose novel The Day Before Almost Everything won this year’s Premio Nadal, Spain’s oldest and most prestigious literary award; and three powerful Indian writers – novelist and human rights activist Salma, memoirist Rosalyn D’Mello and poet Sharanya Manivannan – whose works are featured in Walking Towards Ourselves: Indian Women Tell Their Stories, an anthology of personal narratives exploring India’s gender revolution.

They will join an impressive contingent of US writers including Pulitzer Prize winner William Finnegan (Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life); Cheryl Strayed whose best-selling book Wild detailed her extraordinary solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail of America; novelist and poet Jeffery Renard Allen whose contemporary American masterpiece Song of the Shank was inspired by the real life story and musical genius of ‘autistic savant’ slave Blind Tom; and young writer Angela Flournoy who has recently burst onto the global literary scene with her debut novel The Turner House.

Internationally renowned Australian writers Helen Garner, Anna Funder, Tom Keneally and Drusilla Modjeska will join Texas-based Australian Dominic Smith (The Last Painting of Sara de Vos), this year’s Stella Prize-winner Charlotte Wood (The Natural Way of Things) and performer Magda Szubanski who has elegantly transitioned from the screen to the page with her fascinating and award-winning memoir Reckoning.

Post-election politics and the important issues facing Australians will be hot topics of debate with Bob Brown, Tony Windsor, Tim Fischer and John Faulkner all taking part in sessions along with leading Australian commentators, journalists and thinkers Kerry O’Brien, Sarah Ferguson, Anne Summers, Julia Baird and Ross Coulthart. Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales will feature in a Literary Dinner, ‘When I Get a Minute…’ discussing everything that inspires them ­– outside the realm of politics.

Reconciliation and race will be centre-stage when fellow journalist Stan Grant delivers the annual Thea Astley Festival Address.

Photo-journalists Ben Bohane, Tim Page, Gary Ramage, Cameron Bloom and celebrated Indonesian photographer and writer Rio Helmi will reveal the worlds inside their lenses, while former addict Luke Williams (Ice Age) and Matt Noffs (Breaking the Ice) will share their first-hand insights into the nation’s ‘methamphetamine crisis’.

John Marsden, Lucy Clark, Gabbie Stroud and Catherine Keenan will debate the pressing issues in education and literacy.

Musician Paul Kelly will discuss and sing Shakespeare; beloved cartoonist Michael Leunig will share his musings; while Robert Dessaix will reveal how Enid Blyton changed his life.

Wendy Whiteley, Janet Hawley and Indira Naidoo will invite us into their gardens big and small; AGNSW Director Dr Michael Brand together with artist Nigel Milsom and his subject Charles Waterstreet will unpack the Archibald Prize and the tables will be turned on radio stars Richard Glover and Richard Fidler when they take their turns in the hot seat as interview subjects.

Kids Big Day Out on Festival Sunday offers a jam-packed, fun-filled program for the whole family where kids of all ages can meet and interact with their literary heroes. Children can let their imaginations run wild with Kate Forsyth (The Impossible Quest series), Anna Fienberg (Tashi series, Figaro and Rumba), Grinspoon’s Pat Davern (Alexander the Elephant in Zanzibar), Tristan Bancks (My Life series), Damon Young with Peter Carnavas (My Sister is a Superhero) and Nick Falk with Tony Flowers (Samurai vs Ninja).

The Festival is again partnering with local arts organisations to present additional feature events outside Byron Bay. These include Magda Szubanski in conversation with Australian playwright Hannie Rayson, in association with NORPA at Lismore City Hall. A Surfing Life features William Finnegan in conversation with Sean Doherty at Lennox Head Cultural and Community Centre (in association with Lennox Arts Board) and the 2015 Archibald Prize winner Nigel Milsom and his subject Charles Waterstreet are in conversation with Dr Michael Brand at Tweed Regional Gallery.

‘The reach of Byron Writers Festival now extends across the entire northern rivers region and will introduce visitors to these innovative arts organisations,’ says festival founder and chair Chris Hanley.

‘Byron Writers Festival is renowned for its sense of community and treasured by those who attend,’ says Johnson.

‘Its power lies in the evocative expression of real and imagined stories that strike chords and captivate because they are authentic, and are told by exceptional thinkers, writers and communicators. We invite you to join us at 2016 Byron Writers Festival to discover where stories take you.’

The 2016 Byron Writers Festival will unfold from 5-7 August in the beautiful grounds of Elements of Byron. It will be preceded by a series of hands-on skills development Workshops commencing on 1 August and the annual Festival Schools Programs.

Tickets are now on sale at

BWF 2016 Articles & Reviews

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One response to “Byron Writers Festival announces full line-up”

  1. Banta Singh says:

    That it is a politicised fest can be seen from the 3 Indian authors invited. Not one is recognised outside a small social activist circle and they certainly aren’t powerful as claimed. This is how Australians are wasting opportunities to engage with the mainstream by engaging with fringe elements.

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